Do Fruits and Vegetables Help Keep Your Brain Young?

Eating ample servings of fruit and vegetables every day is proven strategy for long-term health, one that may even help us live longer, according to large populations studies that have uncovered a direct connection between the numbers of daily servings consumed and the risk of mortality in various groups of people. In the search for understanding how fruit and vegetables work to protect health, research has zeroed in on natural compounds found in fruit and vegetables called “flavonoids.” Flavonoids are phytonutrients (“phyto” means “plant”) that exert protective effects on the heart and cardiovascular systems.

The health benefits of generous fruit and vegetable intakes extend to preserving cognitive function in the elderly, as shown in a prospective population study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Epidemiological research studies the incidence of diseases in population groups to identify possible causes or protective factors. The PAQUID study of 1640 subjects aged 65 and older looked at the intake of flavonoids in relation to cognitive function and decline. Standardized tests of cognitive function were utilized in the investigation. The subjects were divided into quartiles (fourths) based on the amount of flavonoids consumed daily from food, chiefly fruits and vegetables, over a 10-year period. Subjects with the lowest flavonoid intake lost twice as many points on the Mini-Mental State Examination. Those in the top two quartiles “performed significantly better over time than did subjects in the lowest quartile,” according to the report.

How flavonoids work in the body may help explain why eating multiple daily servings of fruit and vegetables is so good for us. “Flavonoids are powerful antioxidant molecules,” the report states, a fact established in other research papers. Antioxidants helps neutralize byproducts of metabolism called “free radicals” that can damage cells if they get out of control. The body has enzyme systems for dealing with free radicals, but these can slow down as we age, leaving us more vulnerable to free radical damage.

When we were kids, Mom told us to eat our vegetables; it’s now our responsibility to give our loved ones that same advice as they grow older. Young or old, however, it can be a real challenge to keep up with the standard recommendation to eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables every day without fail. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates the average number of daily servings eaten by Americans at only 1.6 for veggies and 1.1 for fruit. Taking a dietary supplement that includes concentrates of fruit and vegetables is one way consumers are helping meet the shortfall. The demand for “green food” supplements with organic vegetable and fruits continues to increase as consumers follow this emerging lifestyle trend.

Reference:
Letenneur L, et al. Flavonoid intake and cognitive decline over a 10-year period. Am J Epidemiol 2007;165(12):1364-71.

Read more

Flavonoids in Fruits and Vegetables – Protection for Your Heart

An ever-increasing volume of evidence from research studies has built a strong case for the heart health-protecting benefits of a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables. Eating multiple servings every day appears to benefit the heart and reduce the risk of death from heart disease. Do fruit and vegetables contain natural constituents can confer this protection? In search for the answer, science has focused on a diverse group of compounds called “flavonoids” that are abundant in plants. Over 4,000 flavonoids have been identified in the plant kingdom. These substances are also commonly known as “bioflavonoids”; meaning they are found in living things, in this case fruits and vegetables.

Flavonoids are plant-based phytonutrients with cardiovascular protective properties that have come to light in studies on cellular biology. A 2012 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined data on lifestyle behaviors, food consumption and medical histories from questionnaires completed by nearly 100,00 people (38,180 men; 60,289 women. Using a sophisticated statistical analysis method called “cox regression”, the researchers found a strong association between total dietary flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality. Compared to those in the lowest fifth of flavonoid consumption, people in the highest fifth had a nearly 20 percent lower risk. In men, there was a particularly strong link between flavonoid intake and reduced risk of death from stroke. As stated in the report: “Flavonoid consumption was associated with lower risk of death from CVD.”

How do flavonoids deliver their heart health benefits? There appear to be a number of physiological mechanisms. According to a research review published in the scientific journal Pharmacological Reviews: “The mechanism for a cardioprotective role of flavonoids likely involves more than one pathway, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions and vascular effects.”

References:

McCullough ML, et al. Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95(2):454-64.

Middleton M, et al. the effects of plant flavonoids on mammalian cells: implications for inflammation, heart disease and cancer. Pharmacol Rev 2000;52(4):677-751.

Read more

Berries for a healthy heart

Strawberries and blueberries are the two most commonly consumed berries in the United States, which is why they became the focus of a recent study to test whether they could positively impact women’s heart health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, young women who eat at least three servings of strawberries or blueberries each week may be able to reduce their risk of serious heart complications by one-third.

Along with blackberries, grapes and eggplant, blueberries and strawberries contain high levels of flavonoids. Flavonoids have been shown to reduce inflammationand reduce the build-up of harmful plaque.

Even after researchers adjusted for age, high blood pressure, family history and a several other factors, the cardiovascular benefit remained.Dietary flavonoids called anthocyanins give blueberries and strawberries their distinct colors, and scientists now believe these could also benefit the heart.

“This simple dietary change could have a significant impact on prevention efforts,” Eric Rimm, M.D., coauthor and professor at Harvard School of Public Health, told the L.A. Times. Rimm and coauthors also believe that this berry benefit is greater when berries are consumed earlier in life, so that consuming this fruit at an early age might improve heart health later in life as well.

Berries are a powerhouse
Not only do these berries contain antioxidant flavonoids, but they also have salicylic acid, which some believe may act similar to aspirin in warding off heart disease. According to the Berry Benefit Network (BBN), 100 grams of raspberries contains almost 5 milligrams of salicylic acid.

Many berries are also high in vitamin C, which functions as an antioxidant in the body. The National Institute of Health says that vitamin is vital in for formation of important proteins and is required for proper tissue repair and growth. As well as helping us to recover more quickly from illness, it’s also good for bone and joint health.

Raspberries
BBN reports that red raspberries contain high levels of gallic acid, which may improve circulation. They have also been sought after for thousands of years for their oil, which is rich in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids and can even be used as a sunscreen (SPF 25-50). Red raspberry ketones are also taken for weight loss.

Read more

Chocolate intake linked to prevalence of Nobel Laureates

Eat chocolate and get the Nobel Prize? Well, not exactly. According to research from Kings College London and the Wellcome Trust, countries with the highest chocolate intake per capita also have higher numbers of Nobel Prize winners.

No, this does not mean that chocolate inherently makes you smarter. That said, there is some evidence to suggest that cocoa may have positive effects on health and memory, so read on before throwing that bar in the trash.

Population study
The United States population is larger than that of most countries, and boasts a high number of Nobel Laureates. But while Americans eat a lot of chocolate, it may not be the right kind boost cognitive function, according to the London study.

If chocolate had a home, it would be Switzerland. According to the study, the Swiss eat 120 85-ounce chocolate bars per capita annually. While many countries, the United States included, often add milk dilution, Switzerland rarely does so, leaving its chocolate with higher levels of flavonoids, the key ingredients thought to provide chocolate with its "super-food" qualities.

Sweden was an odd exception in the study, producing more than twice as many Nobel Prize winners as expected based on its chocolate consumption of 6.4kg per capita annually. Researchers pointed out that while this may have minor health implications, the information is skewed because the Nobel Committee is Scandinavian, which could make it harder for Swedes to be awarded.

One explanation for the study's results could be that chocolate may improve cognitive performance, but another explanation might be that complex economies have more access to education and workforce resources, and that these economies also tend to have more access to chocolate, too.  The future will tell if chocolate truly holds a place among the century's super foods, but in the meantime, let's work with what we know.

Health effects
Dietary flavonoids have been shown to improve cognitive performance in animals, and the evidence is strong that they may do the same for humans. Dark chocolate is high in potassium, copper, magnesium and iron. Copper and potassium are thought to improve heart health, and iron and magnesium are thought to help regulate blood pressure. In addition, dark chocolate is high in dietary fiber and thought to help reduce "bad" cholesterol.

Read more

Create healthier meals for the whole family

You want your family to eat healthy, vitamin-rich dishes that will help them with weight management, but sometimes that can be a challenge. Children and adults alike often stray away from nutritious meals in favor of junk food, but luckily there are many ways to make healthy foods taste just as delicious as dishes that are filled with fat.

All it takes is a little creativity and the right mix of fruits and vegetables, and you can have a delicious meal that your entire family will happily devour.

Less cream, oil, sugar and fatFirst, Eating Well recommends that you make dishes that require heavy cream and butter, such as alfredo pasta and macaroni and cheese, with low-fat milk thickened with flour. Also, while olive oil is packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, it contains a fair amount of calories. So the next time you dress a salad, make a soup or go to sautee something, consider using slightly less oil.

Furthermore, the news source states that you can still eat fried foods, but you should bake them instead. For example, if you want onion rings, dip the vegetables into milk or egg, cover them in breadcrumbs, then add a little cooking spray. Then, simply pop the onions into the oven until they are crispy and enjoy your treat.

Also, when you're making cookies, cakes or other treats, you can easily cut the sugar that the recipe calls for in half. Simply add more vanilla, nutmeg or cinnamon to pump up the flavor.

Substitutions are key
There are also many simple ingredient substitutions that can make all the difference between a healthy or unhealthy dish. For example, when your family is craving bacon and eggs in the morning, the Mayo Clinic recommends you try turkey bacon or lean prosciutto.

Also, now that the winter is here, soup will probably become a regular part of your family's meals. In place of creamy soups, make ones that use fat-free milk, mashed potato flakes or pureed carrots, all of which can make delicious soups.

Furthermore, while salt is a key ingredient in many dishes, it doesn't have to be. You can simply look for herb-only spices mixes such as garlic powder, celery seed or onion flakes, which can deliver a ton of flavor without boosting your sodium.

You don't have to be a wiz in the kitchen to follow these simple steps to creating healthier meals. 

Read more

How can you get your kids to eat healthy?

Getting kids to eat right can be tough, but it's an important part of a parent's job. Children need essential vitamins and minerals to help support their growing bodies, and without proper nutrition they may face a future filled with health problems. Luckily, there are many ways to get your kids to eat healthy foods without having them put up a fight.

For example, Kitchen Daily recently published an article explaining some of the different ways that you can can convince your kids to eat healthier food. 

Everything is better with chocolate
First, the news source pointed out that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently recommended that both children and adults need to be getting more calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. This is why it's important to determine ways to encourage your children to eat the healthy foods that contain these nutrients, and chocolate can help you do so.

For example, if your child doesn't like to drink milk, then stir in a bit of chocolate sauce. According to the news source, studies showed that when some schools removed chocolate milk from their cafeterias, kids drank 50 percent less of this healthy beverage, which is a good source of vitamin D. While chocolate syrup does contain sugar, there are many reduced sugar varieties that can help your kids get the calcium they need.

Also, if your child doesn't like fruit try dipping bananas, apples, strawberries or really any kind of fruit into a little bit of chocolate and see if they change their tune. Consider using dark chocolate, since the Cleveland Clinic states that this variety may be the better choice because it may contain more antioxidants to help boost cardiovascular health.

Have the right attitude
WebMD recommends that if you want your children to eat right, you have to have the right attitude about food. For example, don't ban any foods, since that will just make your children want to sneak them behind your back. The key is to make sure they understand the importance of moderation.

Also, don't nag kids when they make unhealthy food choices. Instead, talk to them about the other options they could have chosen. For example, instead of fried tortilla chips, they could have had baked ones that would have tasted just as good with some salsa on them.

Finally, never offer food as a reward, since this may create weight problems later in life.
 

Read more

Eat more fruits and veggies to be happier

Do you want to be happy? Of course, everyone does, which is why all people need to make sure to get enough healthy fruits and vegetables each day. While you probably know by now that these foods are packed with vitamins and fiber that are good for the health of your body, did you know that they may be able to improve your mood as well?

According to a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College, happiness and mental health are the highest among people who consume seven portions of fruits and vegetables a day. This suggests that there are even more benefits to eating fruits and veggies than previously thought.

Eat healthy, be happyThe scientists examined the eating habits of over 80,000 people to come to their conclusions. They discovered that mental well-being rose along with the amount of fruits and veggies people ate. Furthermore, people seemed to be at their peak happiness levels when they consumed seven portions of fruits and vegetables a day.

Researchers were surprised by the findings, considering that fruits and veggies are usually only discussed when people bring up physical health.

"The statistical power of fruit and vegetables was a surprise. Diet has traditionally been ignored by well-being researchers," said study co-author professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at Warwick Medical School.

The scientists added that this goes against the fact that most western governments currently recommend five servings of these foods a day for cardiovascular health. However, the United States Department of Agriculture states that the amount of fruits and vegetables a person needs depends on their age, gender and level of physical activity.

How to get moreThe Harvard Family Health Guide offers tips for how people can get more fruits and vegetables into their diet. First, you should set a reasonable goal for yourself. For example, try adding one extra fruit or veggie to each meal. Next, there are many sneaky ways to eat more of these foods without even noticing. For example, you can add some finely grated carrots or zucchini to pasta sauce or chili.

Also, try different blends of fruits to make a tasty smoothie.

Finally, remember that there are many delicious and healthy spreads and dips that can spice up any vegetables. Hummus, spiced yogurt and low-fat dressings are all great examples of ways to make your veggies tastier. 

Read more

Physician assistant calls antioxidants ‘the James Bond of the body’

 

In the battle against everyday pollutants, toxins and unhealthy behaviors, antioxidants are one of the best weapons. That's because these vitamins work in the body to fight free radicals, highly charged ions caused by many of the toxins people encounter on a regular basis. Even though antioxidants have been a major health topic for many years now, there are probably a fair amount of people out there who still don't understand exactly what these vitamins are and what they do.

Recently, CNN published an article by dermatology physician assistant Sarah Neumann, who explained how antioxidants are the "James Bond" of the body.

Stealth health heros

"They team up against disease and diffuse free radicals while combating the aging process.Their name: Oxidants – antioxidants. Just like James Bond, they work to save the world and beautiful women from bad guys. Only this time the beautiful woman is you and the free radicals (bad guys) are invading your body. They're working to keep you feeling healthy and looking young," Neumann wrote for the news source.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are many antioxidant substances. These include lycopene and vitamin C, which can be found in many foods such as tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, watermelon, bell peppers and some cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli.

For people who aren't big fans of fruits and vegetables, there are alternative sources of antioxidants. Coffee, green tea, beans, ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger and even chocolate are all rich with antioxidants, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Multiple benefits

Neumann wrote that antioxidants can help the body from the inside out. For example, she stated that while sunscreen and moisturizer keep the skin looking young, a person's diet can also have an impact. Studies have shown that consuming antioxidant-rich foods  fight off the effects of aging on the skin. Furthermore, antioxidant serum may help with dull complexions, fight wrinkles and potentially even out skin tone.

The physician assistant added that antioxidants don't only fight off the effects of aging, but also prevent some of the harms caused by everyday pollutants. These vitamins have been shown to help protect the body from pollution and secondhand smoke.

Clearly, there are many reasons to get more antioxidants into your diet. Taking a multivitamin may also help you consume more of these healthy, important substances.

Read more

The Mediterranean diet may be good for the bones

 

One of the keys to healthy aging is to protect the skeleton. While many people know that vitamin D and calcium are essential to bone health, they may not realize that their weight can also play a role. For example, a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that being overweight can be damaging to the bones. Furthermore, the increased pressure that being overweight places on the joints may cause pain.

Recently, a new study suggested that there may be a way to promote the health of bones and weight loss at the same time. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that following a Mediterranean diet may have protective benefits for bones. Furthermore, this diet has been used as an effective weight loss tool for many years.

Good for bone and cardiovascular health

According to researchers, olive oil, which is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, has been associated with bone health.

"The intake of olive oil has been related to the prevention of [bone problems] in experimental and in vitro models," said José Manuel Fernández-Real, M.D., Ph.D., of Girona, Spain, and lead author of the study.

Researchers found that people who consumed a Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil were found to have improved bone health over those who consumed a low fat diet or a Mediterranean diet that included mixed nuts, but not as much olive oil. Furthermore, people who ate more olive oil had higher calcium levels than the others.

Other benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Along with potentially helping the bones, the Mediterranean diet has been associated with improved cardiovascular health. According to staff at the Mayo Clinic, this eating plan mostly consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil. Many of the components of this diet, such as salmon, anchovies and olive oil, are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Some people who follow the regimen have also seen improvements in their cholesterol levels. This is likely due to the fact that while following the Mediterranean eating plan, people are supposed to replace butter with olive oil, which has less saturated fat.

Finally, the Mediterranean diet encourages people to drink moderate amounts of red wine, which contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant.

So, people who are interested in potentially improving their bone and heart health should consider trying a Mediterranean diet. 

Read more

When it comes to antioxidants, organic veggies may be the best

 

Most people know by now that antioxidants are substances that may be beneficial to human health and are found in green tea, red wine and many fruits and vegetables. Some individuals may not know the best foods to eat to get antioxidants into their diet. Recently, scientists from the University of Barcelona found that when people want to get antioxidants from tomatoes, they may want to shop in the organic aisle.

According to the researchers, organic tomatoes contain higher levels of antioxidant phenolic compounds than conventional tomatoes. These compounds have been shown to potentially boost cardiovascular health. The scientists said that this difference may come down to the type of manure used when these tomatoes were grown.

"Organic farming doesn't use nitrogenous fertilizers; as a result, plants respond by activating their own defense mechanisms, increasing the levels of all antioxidants," explained the first author of the article, Anna Vallverdu Queralt. "The more stress plants suffer, the more polyphenols they produce."

In previous studies, these researchers demonstrated that organic tomato juice and ketchup contain higher polyphenol content than juice and ketchup made from conventionally grown tomatoes.

Tomatoes are also a good source of lycopene and other carotenoids and vitamin C. A 2011 study from the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that individuals can actually get more lycopene after they cook tomatoes. The authors went so far as to say that tomatoes are the most important non-starchy vegetable in the American diet.

The University of Barcelona researchers said that more studies need to be conducted, but for now they believe these findings support the theory that organic vegetables may have greater health benefits than conventionally grown ones.

Read more